quinta-feira, maio 30, 2019

Non-Hubris SF: "Have Space Suit-Will Travel" by Robert A. Heinlein


(My own edition))


I feel like there is a weird bias when analyzing Heinlein’s work and this book in particular.

I never really got that the Competent Man in Heinlein books was presented as the norm. It was always the protagonist or the protagonist's mentor, characters who can be expected to be exceptional in some way. There were always people beyond reclamation, but Jubal and Lazarus always tried to elevate people around them. They thought everyone should be competent while knowing not everyone was and also that some were determined to not be competent.

I am one of those neckbeards that took that message but not in the way some people might suggest. I set out from a very young age to have the broadest set of skills and knowledge I could acquire while also acquiring sufficient depth on a few of them to be able to have a career. While this has resulted in more hobbies and unfinished projects than I can count, the unexpected benefits have more than paid off in both reduced cost of living by being able to make and maintain a lot of my own stuff myself and also through finding novel solutions by bringing unusual experience to problem solving in my various jobs. Additionally, I never got the general disrespect of academia Heinlein’s books have. I got the disrespect of excessive academia, totally divorced from practicality. But there was clear respect for people who had to be specialized to the exclusion of general competence when it was clear that was necessary to apply sufficient brain-power to the problem being considered. There wasn't time for such people to develop general competence. Those people were to be funded and protected, not disrespected.

Almost no Greek character is free of hubris. Odysseus got cursed by Poseidon all because he bragged to the blinded Cyclops and told him his real name. Theseus got locked in Hell for trying to kidnap Persephone. Perseus was an idiot to agree to hunt Medusa in the first place and had to be helped out through divine intervention or he never could have done it. Heinlein is just carrying the torch so to speak.

If you want to know the more idealistic side of Heinlein’s ‘competent man’ in his young-adult stories, track down this one and ‘Citizen of the Galaxy’. They’re probably two of his best YA novels and can show how these ideas play out.

Maybe I am alone in this.


SF = Speculative Fiction.

quarta-feira, maio 29, 2019

Emotional Disconnect: "Friday" by Robert A. Heinlein


(My edition)


"Friday" is typical of some of Heinlein's style used in some of his not so successful books. Heinlein certainly likes his archetypes, as he should. Jubal Harshaw in “Stranger in a Strange Land,” for example, is just another Boss, a mysterious ultra-rich, cynical genius and Mike is the super-powered innocent growing into his own. I appreciate the feelings more when they are mixed with cunning. Friday was extremely intelligent, but her thoughts, while calculated, were contrived. Her mind had the same feel as the rest of her "just-in-time" powers, which is exactly what deadened her internal conflict for me. Her flip-flops between acting like an alien observer to silly humans, and like a human longing to fit in. So, she's a lot like nerds in 80s sitcoms. The problem was her emotional disconnect as an observer is so pronounced that she basically stops appearing human for small pockets of time. When she was raped early in the story, she was able to brush it off with (again, convenient) "mind control" techniques. She didn't walk away from the situation traumatized; although she did have a nearly-murderous grudge.

My point is that even Friday's psychological state is ultimately indestructible, which hurt the only real conflict that seemed to matter in the story. Even the alien mindset thing can be done well if it has an impact on other characters (Dr. Manhattan is a good example again, with whether he's too alienated to care if humanity ends being a big question throughout). I guess Heinlein had to be aware that the character is indestructible to do anything interesting with them; if they're constantly trying to fake the audience out with the character not really being indestructible, they might not even realize what kind of character they've written themselves.

What supports my point of view, by the way, is that in the end, Friday finds "home" but notice that her tension is actually unresolved, because her locus of emotional control is still exterior, rather than one of self-acceptance and "self-belonging." She depends on others for kittens and cuddles, much as she relied on Boss all the way though. She presents the image of a strong, independent woman, but never quite embodies it, despite being in God Mode.  

segunda-feira, maio 27, 2019

8XK40367: “Citizen of the Galaxy” by Robert A. Heinlein


(My edition)

"Goodnight, son," the old beggar whispered. "Good dreams . . . and good luck!"

In “Citizen of the Galaxy” by Robert A. Heinlein



I should ask the Heinlein estate permission to use one of his characters in a new story. I could see Thorby going after the slavers, there are so many other characters. Lazarus Long, Started Max Jones, Lip Russell and his spacesuit, Bill Lerner and his farm on Ganymede. John Lyle and America as a theocracy.

Of the three main love interests presented the first was taboo, fair enough and he didn’t really think of her that way before it was too late. The second one he was forced to leave behind to uphold his promise to pops and what he felt was his duty, arguably he could've done more here if he was interested and he at the very least though of her that way so it’s a bit "meh' but understandable. The third one though is by now minimum 18 years of age; it’s never really specified exactly but he was taken at 3 and Lida (or Leeda or however it’s spelled said it’s been at least 15 years so at the very least 18 years old. Now here is a young beautiful, caring and brave woman who puts everything on the line to help him, supports him in everything he does, goes against her own parents and literally saves him in more ways than one and you want me to believe an 18 year old man would not give his left nut to get with that? I find that rather unlikely, to imagine he wouldn't even think of her like that is just nonsensical.  When they met, he thought she was a 1st cousin. He didn't recognize her as a potential romance; by the time he realised she was, they were "friendzoned". Plus, it's a consistent character trait that he's pretty much oblivious to women's interest; doesn't pick it up, not everyone does. Also, very driven, duty-minded, not to mention traumatized kid; recipe for dissociation, could be that his libido's entirely sublimated. It never occurred to him to sit outside and watch girls walk by, either.

Shouldn't assume that the way western teens are socialized is biologically inevitable. His socialization is more like a refugee child, totally different worldview and priorities. At first I had the same criticism of the Thorby character but after re-reading some of Heinlein's other books and re-reading this book about a billion times I've decided that it's not an error - Heinlein seems to have intentionally written Thorby's character to be more asexual in nature. Especially seeing as he doesn't show sexual interest in any of the other characters and when it is brought up he seems to react in such a way that seems like he's more concerned with their feelings/his duties than he is interested in exploring anything related to sex/sexuality.

I've known a couple of asexual people in life - they're rare but they do indeed exist…

This, ah, old story by Robert Heinlein, is an instruction manual for life, aimed at young people, but meant for anyone who is interested in how things work in a real world setting. A fictional tale that explains real things in allegory and metaphor. So, your wish that this story never end, is somewhat fulfilled. You may enjoy another story by R.H. titled "Stranger in a Strange Land" (LINK), and the original "Dune" series of 6 books by Frank Herbert.

Why does anyone still read Heinlein? Because he's like David Bowie. Even bad Bowie is better than no Bowie.

Perhaps his best juvenile novel.

domingo, maio 26, 2019

BPN: "The Black Book of Outsourcing" by Douglas Brown and Scott Wilson


I bet those Enron executives were changing their underpants by the hour at the time.

Imagine being asked questions by Federals. Terrifying.



Imagine this dialogue:



' Why did things go wrong ? '

' Things often go wrong in business '

' Do you think you made mistakes ? '

' We all make mistakes '

' Why do you paid so much ? '

' Bonuses were agreed by the Bonus committee - nothing to with me '

' Who is on the bonus committee ? '

' They've all left now, I think '

' How did the Pensions fund get such a deficit ? '

' We were all too busy. Must have overlooked that '

' Thank you . You have been most helpful . These must be dreadful times for you and your family.... '

' Not really. We've all got jobs with banks . '

' Splendid - fancy some lunch - any vacancies going ? '



More importantly, there is a need to question the ineptitude of our so called multi-tasking high flying pen pushes who have sat in government offices for years and allowed companies like thse to run rings round them. Like BPN (a Portuguese bank that went tits up a few years ago), those in sitting behind closed doors will still be doing their nine to five - and that's on a good day, clocking up their sickies, pensions, flexie and whatever other benefits they can wangle out of the taxpayer. And if any blame is put at their door, it will be the same old 'we,re on a learning curve'. The public sector is more to blame than any in the private sector for horrendous state of contracting to the private sector. Until Government gets to grips with the dirt under their own carpets, the situation will not change. Yes, a fair proportion of the public sector do a good job, but these are mainly the makers and doers.

The dross is in the administration, the pen pushers, the managers who once they get their legs under the table, unless they pinch the tea money or pinch the wrong bottom, will sit their for life. And this applies from the top to the bottom.

It's time to follow procedure. That's what "The Black Book of Outsourcing" is all about. It's old, bit it's still quite good.

sábado, maio 25, 2019

Competent Man: “Time Enough for Love” by Robert A. Heinlein


(my 1985 edition)


“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

In “Time Enough for Love” by Robert A. Heinlein


This my favourite Heinlein quote.

I really am the competent man; the only thing from Heinlein's Dictum that I cannot and have not done, is conn a spaceship, and butcher a hog (but I have seen it being done); I don’t know about the part of dying gallantly. I’ll tell you afterwards…I wasn't bought up on a farm or in the middle of nowhere. I'm from a large town, Lisbon. It's about learning and honing skills, and treating every opportunity as a chance to try them out. For example, I learned the praxis of trigonometry (not just the theoretical part) before I learned it in high-school. It's all very well just knowing it but to be a capable man you need to go further. This allowed me design a trebuchet in my 12th year in physics and make predictions on its performance, then build it and test it. Thus causing me to learn many different subjects and skills (up to and including gaining permission from the school) just to test my math. It's not location, it's the outlook that counts.

I think to view Heinlein’s list above as literal is a bit of a mistake anyway. The point is, I think, that a person should be able to assimilate and adapt to new tasks. You may not be able to build a wall right now but you should have a broad idea of what things are about and be able to acquire or intuit a lot of the details. Everyone who has ever worked in IT knows what I’m talking about.

Now I wonder if the Asimov’s character Golan Trevize, the arrogant and intuitive man whose actions shaped the future of Foundation isn’t a riff on that Competent Man. He fits all these criteria but he is arrogant and self-centered to the point where everyone kind of hates him. Still, in the end, his character arc ends up with him changing and realizing some pretty important stuff about the place of Man in the galaxy. But, I’m just saying that... who knows?

The 'Common Man' still exists though, in SF and when you run across one you know the story is going to be bad. Only now they're called 'Mary Sue' and 'Marty Stu'. Seeing the Common Man in action in Mundane Fiction is equally bad. I feel like the "Competent Man" critique isn't fair.  These protagonists often start incompetent.  Lazarus learned lessons the hard way over hundreds of years.  Mike knows basically nothing about anything.  Johnny from “Starship Troopers” joins the Mobile Infantry (considered the lowest rung of the military) because he has no qualifications for anything else.

Jubal isn't also the “The Competent Man” archetype either. Jubal is the "Old Man" archetype, which is often seen as the characters representing Heinlein himself.  Jubal and the Professor (Moon) are examples (and one or more teachers/instructors in Starship).  They're usually wise old characters who are dissidents/non-conformists in some way (politically, culturally), and they often spend a lot of time monologuing philosophy. Mike from Stranger isn't apparent as a "Competent Man" because by the time he becomes the Competent Man, the story is focusing on other characters' POV.  Some of Heinlein's books are solely focused on a protagonist's journey into becoming the Competent Man by overcoming obstacles (often internal/mental).

Incest? FFS! Many people cite the incest in Heinlein's novel as a type of perversion but in Heinlein's view of the future genetic imperfections are eliminated that made the incest taboo necessary in the first place. In "Time Enough for Love" Lazarus and Dora had to explain to their children why incest was improper, even exaggerating the chances of birth defects in order to discourage relations between them. Don't even suggest Heinlein was an advocate of incest.

Heinlein is a shining example of the importance of zeitgeist.  Much of what he wrote was very progressive or even controversial for the time.  In a modern context, his social stances look occasionally offensive and often backwards or ignorant, and always flawed.  But you have to keep the context of the original writing in mind.  Society marches on, propelled in part by authors like Heinlein forcing people to confront the absurdities of the prevailing mindsets of the time (and highlighting those absurdities with deliberate flaws meant to show just how twisted such thinking is).  You must always remember what society was like at the time of a piece's writing when you evaluate it, because that will tell you far more than any perspective you might gain from how society is at the time of review.

Heinlein is only controversial to those who are anti-liberty and anti-self-reliance.

sexta-feira, maio 24, 2019

ITIL Practitioner Certification: Lessons Learned After Exam Taking



Lessons Learned:


1 - Thoroughly read (3 times) the ITIL® Practitioner Guidance from cover-to-cover;

2 - Underline all relevant concepts of 1 only in the last read;

3 - Build your own thorough MindMaps after 2 (don't use MindMaps from third parties; to make the concepts your own you've got to build your own MindMaps);

4 - Use 3 to own the ITIL Practitioner concepts;

5 - Using 3 and without looking at the solutions, do the first iteration of exam 1 handed out in the training without lookign at the solutions;

6 - Without looking at the solutions, auto-correct exam 1 handed out in the training sessions;

7 - Cross-check your solutions obtained in 6 with the official solutions;

8 - Using 3 and without looking at the solutions, do the first iteration of exam 2 handed out in the training without looking at the solutions;

9 - Without looking at the solutions, auto-correct exam 2 handed out in the training sessions;

10 - Cross-check your solutions obtained in 9 with the official solutions;

11 - Thoroughly analyse 7 and 10 by using the official reasoning handed out in the training session;

12 - Really understand the differences between your solutions and the official ones;

13 - Think deeply on the connection between the PMP and ITIL Practitioner Certifications because there are a lot of contact points the two (Communication, PMBok, DevOps, Lean, etc);

14 - Prior to the exam (two hours before), read your MindMaps once again (don't stay up all night cramming; it won't work) ;

14 - During the exam don't overthink the answer;

15 - In some situations the most encompassing answer is not the solution;

16 - Look for (related) key words both in the scenarios, sub-scenarios and the questions; not only God is in the details, but also the answer invariably is in the detailed phrasing;

17 - Control time (used smartwatch beep to control 1h passed, 2 h passed);

18 - Leave 20 m to spare (finished the exam in 2h30m; exam duration 2h50);

19 - At the end of the exam, don't make ever make corrections. Go with your gut instinct;

20 - Use around 30m to understand the scenarios and sub-scenarios to build the detailed MindMap for the exam (during the exam use the blank pages provided - to be shredded before you leave the exam room);

21 - Submit Online Exam. Good Luck!


This strategy was used to score 80% (32/40) in the exam.


NB: There are no exams available online. That means that the 20 points above are all you're going to have to get yourself exam-ready. As an alternative, you may think up your own strategy.

quarta-feira, maio 22, 2019

ζ (s) = 0: “Dr. Riemann's Zeros” by Karl Sabbagh



After having read Sabbagh’s book a General Solution to the Riemann Hypothesis popped up in my tiny little brain.

Here it is.

 ζ(0) = negative one half = non trivial zero.

Proof:

1. Superimpose two unit circles.
2. Designate the vertical diameters as 2i and the horizontal diameters as 2x.
3. Starting at zero degrees and rotating counterclockwise, the points of axes along the circumference then assume the values (1, 0); (0, i); (-1, 0) and (0,-i).
4. Pin the common point of the two unit circles at (1; 0) such that this point is restricted from moving.
5. Reduce the diameter of one of the unit circles by half. This creates an inner circle of diameter i vertically and diameter x horizontally, which is pegged/pinned to the larger unit circle at point (1; 0):
6. This pegged inner circle is identical in every respect to the larger parent unit circle except it has been scaled to half the size of the larger unit circle.
7. The origin of the parent unit circle assumes various equivalent values Cartesian: zero, plus or minus 1

Fermatian: zero, limit, derivative, maxima, minima, plus and minus 1, one half, i
Newtonian: zero, shrinking the 2i secant to zero= i = limit = derivative = maxima = minima:
Inner Circle shift: The (-1; 0) point of the reduced circle now occupies the origin of the larger         parent circle.

8. The origin of the reduced/inner circle is identical to the origin of the larger parent circle. They differ only in location.
9. Thus since i = 0 then the entirety of the i diameter of the reduced /inner circle is, and must be, zero.
10. The same result may be obtained by shrinking the 2i diameter/secant of the parent circle to the length of the i = zero diameter/secant of the inner circle.
11. Thus the i diameter comprises the critical line and since its entirety is composed of zeroes then these zeroes are, obligatorily, non-trivial zeroes.
12. Given step 7, i is equivalent to the tangent = m = slope.
13. Vis a vis the parent circle, this slope is manifest as the hypotenuse (tangent line) of a right triangle of height i and base .5x or one half x.
14. This results in the formation of a negative .5 slope or negative one half slope or a positive 2 precessional rate where slope = m = negative one half.
15. Therefore m = i = 0 = nontrivial zero = negative one half.
16. Therefore critical line equals
i = 0 = non trivial zero= negative one half = Zeta(0).
17. Thus is it proven that Zeta(0) =negative one half=non trivial zero.
QED

What people usually DON'T ask is the following: pick a random integer between 1 and N. What is the probability that the integer you picked is prime? In the polynomial case, they say: pick a random polynomial of degree d, with coefficients restricted. What is the probability that the polynomial I pick is irreducible?

It is known by the Prime Number Theorem that the fraction of integers between 1 and N that are prime is roughly 1 / log(N). Since the denominator grows toward infinity as N does, the probability that the integer is prime is very close to 0 when N is very large.

Some pointers not addressed in Sabbagh's book:

(1) Prime numbers are distributed throughout the infinite set of integers, where the number of primes below N is roughly ~ N/ln (N). The set of integers is well ordered by definition, i.e.: 1,2,3,4,5,6, . . . .
(2) IFF it were possible to similarly order the set (or some subset) of compact polynomials with integer coefficients, would the set of Prime polynomials in the larger set obey something like a logarithmic or exponential distribution? For instance: Where the of NON-prime polynomials might approach ln (N/N), and the density of Prime-polynomials might be ~ (N - ln (N/N)), or some powers of these?, i.e., the density of factorable polynomials decreases toward zero as N goes to infinity.

Has anyone ever regularized a polynomial version of the Riemann Zeta function for polynomials? I am not surprised no one hasn't since in some sense the algorithmic universe would have to be vast, or nature would be very simple. But I just don't know. I haven't been up to speed on Math Papers for the past years.

I'd have liked this exposition on the Riemann Hypothesis if Sabbagh had jnot concentrared so much on Louis de Branges efforts at proving it. Scary to think that so much was placed on the Riemann Hypothesis (all his life actually; this book was written in 2004; it's 2019 and no one has come nowhere close to solving it - forget Atiyah's attempt because it's bogus). It's probably impossible to understand the allure and the importance of the Riemann Hypothesis without some mathematical background, but if you have a decent first year college mathematical background, it's doable. Here's a more detailed view, also written by Sabbagh, on the de Branges attempt.

Bottom-line: A fun book. As another very concise but hugely influential example there's 'P=NP'. That's pretty easy to get on a t-shirt. And like the Riemann Hypothesis we're fairly sure what the outcome is ('P!=NP' in this case) but a proof could be very helpful. In the end, Math is too hard for mathematicians. They still cannot solve the Navier-Stokes equations. Engineers like myself routinely "solve" them by experimentation and clever approximations, the Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes equations that is. What do I care about proofs...? The Riemann Hypothesis really means that the primes are pretty much randomly distributed (with the probability of N being prime going like 1/log(N)), i.e., they're not concentrated and deconcentrated in certain waves. The proof of the Riemann Hypothesis could really be some clever analogy of the proof of the fact that there are infinitely many primes. If there were a finite set of primes, their products plus one would be another prime that would be a contradiction. A Riemann Hypothesis proof would be seismic. I do think, though, that the media would mainly ignore a valid proof. Very very few know who Riemann was outside of the math/physics community, let alone his hypothesis. If a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis is done through "traditional" ways I would expect it will be very hard to understand, and that one will also learn a lot of subtle complex analysis on the way. If the proof is easy because the approach is radically new, then I would expect that the approach turns out to be more interesting than the Riemann Hypothesis itself.

NB:  ζ = Zeta Function.

domingo, maio 19, 2019

Shinfuseki: "Go with the Flow - How the Great Master of Go Trained His Mind" by Hunhyun Cho, Jungmin You (Trans.)



"The game of Go is not just a sport that one needs to win; it is a form of art, just like music or paiting, with which one expresses one's unique individuality. In order for it to a be a work of art, it needs to have a creative and unique aspect that can speak to us. Go is not just about winning. More importantly, it is about expressing oneself."

Master Shuko in a letter to Lee Changho, In "Go With the Flow"


I became infatuated with Go in 2016 during the AlphaGo vs. Lee Sedol match.

It is quite a simple game. Players take turns to place a piece (stone) on the board, at the intersections of a 19x19 grid (for a full size match). If you manage to surround your opponents stones such that they have no empty grid lines around their stones, then you capture those stones and remove them from the board. At the end of the match you count up how many empty grid spaces are surrounded by your stones, and add that to how many you have captured. The player with the highest score wins.

There are a couple of other rules for special cases, but that is all there is to it. Chess on the other hand, has far few possible moves each round (1st player 1st move has 8 pawns with at 1 or 2 jumps, and 2 knights with 2 options each = 20 first moves, opponent then has 20 options and so on with generally only perhaps 15-20 options a move) and so is amenable to Monte Carlo approach (consider each move and calculate strength of the game, and for each of those moves consider each possible subsequent move, assess each board strength and then consider every possible next move. If have 6 rounds to consider then perhaps 20 ^ (6 rounds * 2 players) = 64 million boards to consider as the match clock ticks away a few minutes, seek to assess a few further rounds ahead for a Grandmaster vs a competent amateur and Deep Blue computer had a tough task to compete against Kasparov.

With Go firstly the number of options becomes excessive (361 moves for black, 360 moves for white, then 359 options for black... so 6 rounds is 361x360... x 349 = 1.3 billion trillion trillion possibilities ). Secondly it can be very difficult, even for professional players, to assess overall board strength. So a move might be locally strong or weak, but it can also have influence latter in the game of a player's or their opponent's other groups. Now of humans have difficulty with this, then how is an AI to assess might possible moves are worth consider further.

AlphaGo is in several parts and it is their combination of approaches that has worked so well. Firstly experience - AlphaGo was given thousands of professional matches to look at and learn common patterns and responses. This helps Alpha Go narrow down the number of moves that it needs consider. Secondly AlphaGo includes a module that tries to assess the strength of a board. AlphaGo second learning was by playing millions of games against itself adapting its neural network to learn what is a stronger board position. This is AI, as opposed to a clever programming code, because there is no specific coding as to what a stronger board looks like - instead the neural network has to adapt to see what works best. AlphaGo also played against previous versions of itself to help it get stronger. Yes humans get stronger by playing lots of games, but a committed amateur on an internet gaming site might only play several thousand games as they rise up the amateur rankings, and a profession at Go school will from young childhood played a few games a day and studied go problems so their few thousand game exposures a year over 10 or 20 years still does not compare to how many millions of games AlphaGo has already tried with itself. The neural network of strong board position is not enough to play Go well - one need to have past experience (the deep-learning that gives rise to the company's name of Deep Mind) of what are likely to be strong patterns of responses to limit the number of sensible moves to decide between. The deep learn is though not enough without learnt expertise of assessing the merits of a play.

DeepMind AlphaGo uses a brute-force approach, albeit a different one from Deep Blue, as well as a different one from Deep Throat which was a different one from the original Deep Throat. But it's brute-force nonetheless, as it relies upon being able to sample millions of variations before it makes a move. So, what we have learned from the last couple of days is not that Go, unlike chess, requires an AI solution, but that Go is more like chess than we used to think.

However, there is another side to this: even without doing any look-ahead at all, an AlphaGo-style " artificial neural net" can play a respectable amateur-level game just by itself, which demonstrates that such an artifice is capable of learning to "see" patterns in an image and "know" what they "mean" (i.e., what to do about what it sees, i.e., which move to make). The pattern recognition side of things is what the DeepMind company and the Google Brain project are focused on, and even if they overhype what they are doing, their technology still represents a kind of intelligence that is indeed artificial, as it is not told what to do. but how to learn what to do.

Nevertheless, the so-called singularity is, as Noam Chomsky adroitly put it, science fiction. Sure, it will happen one day, but that day will be long after sea levels have risen substantially and London, Tokyo and New York become Waterworld.

It is is a trivial matter for Alpha to spit out what I figure to be the most probable sequence variation, but the next giant leap in AI will be when someone figures out how to map convolution configurations into symbolic expressions that relate to a hierarchical description of the position in terms of things like group safety, influence, and potential territory, so that Alpha’s daughters will be able to explain what they are thinking about in something resembling any Natural Language.

sexta-feira, maio 17, 2019

True Boss: "Shakespeare's Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature" by Stuart Kells


My proposal for a book on Shakespeare’s life:

Chapter One: "He was as tough and romantic as the town he lived in" ... nah too preachy , lets face it. I want to sell some books here ... "Inside his tights lay the coiled sexual tension of a jungle cat" (I love this!), "Stratford was his town ... and it always would be ..."

Chapter Two: "But at the very moment a visiting group of players draw back the curtain on a startling and spectacular thespian future,and he's smitten by a star-crossed love affair, then weighed down with the responsibilities of a parent before he can break with the Forest of Arden..."

Authorship dispute coming up with some bits about "Shakespeare's Library" on the side...

This book conveys the excitement of looking for evidence of his identity at the Folger Shake-speare Library (no, they don't actually use that hyphen, thank God!). Many eons ago, the New York Times reported that Roger Stritmatter got his Ph.D. in comparative literature for a dissertation on the Folger's copy of Edward de Vere's Geneva Bible. If Shakespeare scholarship were truly scholarly and objective, rather than an exercise in snake-oil tradition, pseudo-authority, and groupthink, Stritmatter's research would never have seen the light of day.  

Following up on Professor Stritmatter's snake-oil research, I had the good fortune to find that the heavily annotated copy of the Whole Book of Psalms bound with Oxford's Geneva Bible is the key that unlocks the mysteries of many Sonnets, the "Rape of Lucrece", and passages in plays, that echo the distinctive psalm translations in that Elizabethan "hymnal." I just hope that Stuart Kells's implication that evidence, not faith, should settle who wrote Shakespeare will some day be adopted by the community of Shakespeare alternative "scholars."

We've now had everyone from William Kyd to Rodney Dangerfield proposed as the true Boss. I find it all great fun. I'm not entirely persuaded that the opposition to William of Stratford is solely based on class prejudice (though that certainly obtains). But the plays were written by someone who signed his name William Shakespeare (or some variation, spelling being a bit lax in those faraway times). And they're pretty good, on the whole. If someone, say, Francis Drake, were once proved of being WS, that would dominate the headlines for at least a week. Wouldn't change the plays. They were written by William Shakespeare. I've always admired the English for allowing their harmless lunatics to walk about freely.

Shakespeare - probably the number 3 after Brexit and Trump/Putin to bring out the fanatics beating drums....any mention that it might not have been the geezer from Stratford who wrote all those dramas and sonnets is assured a number of furious posts, all by people convinced that they know who did what several centuries ago. For some people it's much more entertaining than reading most of his plays...!

Bottom-line: I’m happy to assume that William Shakespeare, playwright and genius was William Shakespeare, playwright and genius and that it was this William Shakespeare, playwright and genius who wrote the plays by William Shakespeare, playwright and genius. I know that this statement is wildly controversial but hey - I’m that kind of guy.

quarta-feira, maio 15, 2019

Non-Fuckfort SF: "The Great Leveller (#4-6)" by Joe Abercrombie



Every time I re-read one of the First Law novels, I find myself thinking, “Why the fuck am I reading an western disguised as SF (the Fantasy variety) with lots of adventure/revenge/war that actually makes me feel downtrodden as I tear through the books?” Maybe because I get stuff that I can’t get anywhere else SF-wise (or Fantasy-wise). For instance, in one of the volumes in this trilogy, “The Heroes”, there’s a scene that gets me every goddamn time, where a character follows a person in a battle until that person dies, then that person follows whoever killed that person until that person also dies, then follows whoever killed that person, and so on and so forth; I don’t get this kind of recursive narrative in my usual Fantasy fodder. That’s you notice the guy’s writing chops. I would put his work (minus the juveniles which are crap) and K. J. Parker’s against anyone in any genre since Tim O'Brien for illustrating the truth of war. Moreover, Grimdark is not killing fantasy. But something is killing fantasy. Maybe only Fantasy writers can kill Fantasy as they’re doing right now. For instance, did Laurell K. Hamilton's romance-but-with-vampires/werewolves/zombies bullshit spawn do it? Or Jordan? Or Goodkind? Or Eddings? Al of them belong to the regular re-outbreaks of Tolkien rip-offs, the so-called the herpes of the genre. I hope this trend will pass, but I’m not sure a return of Elves and Druids or some such crap won’t happen. I think we get the fantasy we deserve. What Joe Abercrombie does is not easy; he not deviate too far from the traditional path but introduces something new. We've all seen these heroes before, we recognize the old fart disguised as a wizard who plays things close to his chest (a la Heinlein), the cynical warrior who is just tired of it all (a la Parker). The brilliance of Abercrombie is that he makes these characters come alive. I've met these types before in Fantasy but they've always lacked something. Abercrombie gives them a soul, makes me believe.

For me, Abercrombie is George R. R. Martin but grown the fuck up. There is wonder and (almost no) magic but none of the stupidity of some of Martin's characters. I've just finished re-reading the second First Law Trilogy (novels 4 to 6), and in these 3 novels he is impressively extra cynical in a way I think really appeals to me. If he had written some of Tolkien’s stuff, I think it would have turned out that Gandalf was really Sauron, Aragorn was just a dude who found a broken sword at a flea market, and Frodo and Sam were going at it behind the bushes, and at the same time both were cheating on each other with Gollum (and also secretly brothers). Even people who do good stuff in his novels only do so accidentally. There are some pretty clever subversions of fantasy tropes which I love. Why? I just don't like heroes anymore. They suck! I prefer reading them on old books, because they’re kind of a quaint notion from a vintage time. In the sense that Abercrombie’s SF (Fantasy) is an attempt at a modern form of ancient myth; when some people Grimdark is modern, nope. Grit (and Grimdark) has always been in SF in a way. I mean if the Sophocles’ plays (the Theban plays in particular) aren't considered Grimdark, I don't know what is.

One thing that ruins Martin’s GoT for me is my inability to sustain suspension of disbelief; his characters, do not become pants shittingly terrified over the possibility that all of the terrible stuff happening around them (or that they were perhaps inflicting on other characters) would eventually happen to themselves. I mean, every single character is so full of silliness, cockiness, or absurdity that they never start wondering if not living by the sword might be a path to avoid dying by the sword. Or that the characters who aren't full of silliness, cockiness, or absurdity are all so mentally balanced that not one of them lays awake nightly, too anxious to sleep, worried that someone from the Fuckfort will peel them like an orange, or burn them alive. I could believe a bit more strongly in the GoT if there at least one over-sensitive character who was absolutely mortified by the Grimdark surrounding them. With Abercrombie it’s a different story altogether.


Why have I re-read the first 6 novels set in First Law World? Because the seventh, “A Little Hatred” will come out in September…


SF = Speculative Fiction.

domingo, maio 12, 2019

Less World-Building is Better: “The First Law Trilogy (#1-3)” by Joe Abercrombie


“’If a thing smells like shit, and is the colour of shit, the chances are it is shit.’”

In “The First Law Trilogy (#1-3)” by Joe Abercrombie

“’No one likes to shake hands with the man who empties the latrine pits either, but pits have to be emptied all the same. Otherwise the world fills up with shit.’”

In “The First Law Trilogy (#1-3)” by Joe Abercrombie

“A soldier was dragged past with an arrow in his eye. ‘Is it bad?’ he was wailing, ‘is it bad?’”

In “The First Law Trilogy (#1-3)” by Joe Abercrombie

“Every man had his own special language of agony. Some screamed and howled without end. Some cried out for help, for mercy, for water, for their mothers. Some coughed and gurgled and spat blood. Some wheezed and rattled out their last breaths.”

In “The First Law Trilogy (#1-3)” by Joe Abercrombie



World building has always been the last refuge of the untalented when it comes to fantasy writing. If more time was spent on plot and characters, and less of GDP and child mortality rates of these 'fantasy worlds,' we'd all be a lot better off. If you compare how many pages are in the Illiad, or in Fritz Lieber's works, or in Joe Abercrombie's, say, and compare it to the doorstops of Martin and Jordan, then it's crystal clear that 'world building' can often be an unnecessary device. Abercrombie, as an example, created better characters in 4 pages of writing, than most authors did with 4 novels. More is not necessary better. World building is always problematic for me, because IMO, it robs the reader of imagination, of the ability and experience of filing in the gaps yourself, and becoming immersed in the world, which is a joy to me as a reader. Let's take the Shire from LotR as an example. Everybody's Shire is different, because every reader, every person, is unique, and has their own unique take on the Shire. Sure, the rolling green hills are there for everybody, but everybody's rolling green hills will be different. Bilbo's front do, or at Bag End will be its own unique and subtle shade of green for everybody. But if the author gives us every nut and bolt, fills in every blank, and gives us reams of economic data on a world or a person, then the imagination, the wonder, is lost. As a kid, I used to wonder at how strange and wonderful Numenor was in this particular world, but then Tolkien and his son gave us notebooks worth of backstory, filing in every gap, and Numenor lost its sparkle and wonder...

That's just the difference between good world building and bad world building. The suggestive unexplained detail hinting at wonders yet unrevealed (Abercrombie’s and Tolkien’s without the Notes) versus exhaustive and exhausting detail (like Jordan and Martin). Most of time it’s clearly just a question of balance. But if you read fantasy (of the imagined world’s variety) you need to believe this is a real place rather than just a hastily knocked together wonderland, even if you don't need reams of econometric data. Actually this why I generally don't read much fantasy anymore, except for a few authors here and there like Abercrombie. Nothing gets me frothing at the mouth more quickly than "You are the Chosen One, who must use the Staff of Wonders to defeat the Dark Duke!!" None of that in Abercrombie's SF. You get Sand dan Glokta instead, which is much, much better...

Nb: The Blade Itself (5), Before They Are Hanged (4) and Last Argument of Kings (5)

sábado, maio 11, 2019

EVA: "First on the Moon: The Apollo 11 - 50th Anniversary Experience" by Rod Pyle



For me the first words on the Moon were not the "One small step, etc" but the wonderful point when the Apollo lander actually landed and the crew changed from the call sign "Apollo 11" to "Houston, tranquility base here, the Eagle has landed" (not a single word wasted; technically, the first words from the surface of the moon were "contact light" - i.e., the LM was in contact with the lunar surface.). God, I wish I could have seen it live...those words still make me well up every time I hear them. Pilots doing their thing, superbly, and sounding calm and imperturbable as they made history. Has the world gone backwards in the last 50 years? Yes and no. "No" from a technology perspective, but most definitely from a sense of adventure perspective. No chance the Apollo programme would happen today - too many bleeding hearts complaining about how many schools and hospitals it could have paid for...

Aldrin said that he long suspected that one reason he'd been overlooked was the furor over the Gemini 9 mission, when he was had suggested (behind Gene Kranz' back) that Cernan conduct an incredibly risky spacewalk to try to cut the badly installed lanyards on the Agena docking vehicle's shrouds. The EVA wasn't undertaken -- the possibility of injury or death when the spring-loaded shrouds released was considered far too high -- and Kranz almost resigned as a result of the breakdown in command. (He told Kraft that he would leave after Gemini 9, but was later persuaded to stay on.) This all left a suspicion in Kranz/Slayton/Kraft's minds over Aldrin's judgement. Of course, it's just as likely that they chose Armstrong because he was considered a better role model for 'first man'... [See Kranz and Kraft's flight controller biographies for more on these.]

Sixty six years from the first heavier-than-air flight to landing on the Moon is a breathtaking rate of change; and the bending of an entire nation to the single purpose of building and flying Apollo is one of the greatest achievements in history (and this is the ultimate proof that Kubrick didn't fake the moon landings. If he had we'd have got up to Apollo 160 before he was satisfied). I was three years old and I'm still trying to forgive my mum for not waking me up. But I do remember her crying when it looked like the Apollo 13 men were not coming back. Remarkable times.

I think there's an interesting debate to be had about technological progress too. Sure, tech has become ubiquitous, but almost all of it is based on stuff that was developed in the 60s and 70s, just smaller and more powerful - and almost all of it developed in publicly funded projects too. I wonder what could possibly have happened at the start of the 80s that destroyed that sense of research for the sake of research rather than for the sake of shareholder value?

I just wish Pyle had put more stuff in the book. I'll have to look elsewhere to get something more of the 50 years Moon Landing craze...

sexta-feira, maio 10, 2019

Symplectic Geometry: "Axiomatic" by Greg Egan



One thing I found about Greg Egan's novels and short stories, is that they are so densely layered and packed with information (that often swamps the plot and characters) that they are very good to re-read. When I do this I tend to forget how well the story and characters work or don't work, and absorb what Egan's main drivers, which are ideas and concepts, and how they might work when extrapolated from current scientific knowledge to the nth degree. I'd suggest this as a great read to anyone with a degree or more in advanced physics. I think the average SF fan will be better off just reading the Wikipedia plot description.

A few notes and rating on some of the stories and the Physics (or lack thereof) behind it:

The Infinite Assassin: Physics -> MWI/Parallel Universes (4 stars)

“The number of parallel worlds is uncountable infinite – infinite like the real numbers, not merely like the integers – making it difficult to quantify these things without elaborate mathematical definitions, but roughly speaking, it seems that I’m unusually invariant: more alike from world to world than most people are. How alike? In how many worlds? Enough to be useful. Enough to do the job.”


The kind of "multiverse" that the physicists are referring to when they discuss the cold spot is the Bubble Multiverse, which necessarily demands that each universe is a separate entity. The kind of "multiverse" quantum physicists mean is the Quantum Multiverse, in which a new and entirely separate reality is created each time something happens that could have happened differently due to probabilistic quantum events. While they may exist simultaneously, the existence of one, even if it were proven, does not attest to the existence of the other. What Egan is writing about here is not MWI but parallel universes.

There's a strange paradox with the multi-verse. If there's infinite universe and infinite possibilities, then there's an infinite amount of universes where someone has figured out a way to destroy the entire multi-verse. And even if they choose not to destroy it, there's an infinite amount of universes where they do destroy the multi-verse, and so we shouldn't exist anymore...

observable universe...
multiple observable universe...
multi-o-universe......
we should be calling it oniverse and multoverse :^3

The Hundred-Light-Year-Diary: Physics -> Time-Reverse Universe (5 stars)

“I climbed out of bed and started dressing, although I had no reason to hurry home [he’s shagging someone other than his wife]. Alison [his wife] knew all about us; apparently, she’d known since childhood that her husband would turn out to be a piece of shit.”

“The ignorance cults say that knowing the future robs us of our soul; by losing the power to choose between right and wrong, we cease to be human.”


The Time-Reversed Universe according to Janus model

The theory describes two sheets or parallel universes in CPT-symmetry interacting through gravity, both originating from the same initial singularity. In Janus model, four species of matter coexist:

    1- Positive mass matter (baryonic matter). Baryonic matter refers to all matter composed of elementary particles called baryons. In practice, this corresponds to protons, neutrons, their constituents (bosons, quarks), to which leptons are implicitly added (such as electrons and neutrinos) and which compose atoms and molecules and all directly visible structures in the observable universe (stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, etc.).
    2- Positive mass antimatter (C-symmetry with respect to the first specie). This is the antimatter according to Dirac definition which is not very abundant compared to the first type. C-symmetry reverses not only the sign of the electrical charge but also the other quantum charges qi including the baryonic number, but not the spin. ζ-symmetry is the translation into symplectic geometry of this C-symmetry between matter and Dirac's antimatter. ζ-symmetry, in the 5-dimensional evolution space used in the Janus model, causes symmetry C (called q-symmetry in Janus model) in the space of the moment.

Together with positive energy photons, these first two species are the components of the universe known until now: it is the first sheet of the universe (a.k.a. the positive sector).
The 4 species of matter in the positive and negative sectors according to the Janus model.

    3- The negative mass material (CPT-symmetry with respect to the first specie, with an anti-linear and anti-unit operator T), which is not very abundant with respect to the fourth specie. CPT-symmetry simultaneously reverses quantum charges, parity (the spatial image seen in a mirror) and time.
    4- Negative mass antimatter (PT-symmetry with respect to the first specie, with a linear and unitary operator T). Using symplectic geometry, the Janus model demonstrates that this PT-symmetry is also a ζ-symmetry and a q-symmetry which automatically go together, so the quantum charges are also reversed.

The fourth specie, the so-called “Feynman antimatter”, is the primordial antimatter.

I could go on and on and write about the other stories the same way. There’s almost always a golden nugget buried there waiting to be discovered by the reader...